Media 'move the goalposts' after release of Trump-Ukraine call transcript

Critics of President Trump are being accused of moving the goalposts following Wednesday’s release of the transcript of a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that does not show Trump dangling American military aid in return for a Ukrainian probe of Joe Biden.

In pressing forward with a formal impeachment inquiry, Democrats claimed Trump had frozen $400 million in aid to Ukraine to pressure officials into pursuing a Biden investigation. Democratic lawmakers and liberal pundits urged Trump to release the transcript of his controversial call, and he obliged with a CIA-drafted memorandum of the conversation. The document does not show Trump explicitly leveraging military aid as part of a quid pro quo.

But critics cited several concerns -- including that the document did not reflect a "verbatim transcript" and that a related whistleblower complaint still has not been made public.

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NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck told Fox News that “the stampede of excuses” surrounding the transcript doesn’t surprise him, as mainstream pundits shift the criteria needed to impeach the president.

“One of the most time-honored traditions in the liberal media is the moving of the goalposts when their adversaries and/or enemies do the very thing they've been asking for,” Houck said.

“One of the most time-honored traditions in the liberal media is the moving of the goalposts when their adversaries and/or enemies do the very thing they've been asking for."

— NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck

CNN’s Pamela Brown immediately told viewers the transcript didn’t reveal “explicit quid pro quo” but featured a disclaimer that it isn’t necessarily a “verbatim” transcript.

“This is just one part of the whistleblower complaint surrounding President Trump. It is not the full picture,” Brown said.

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“The president has a way of asking without asking,” CNN’s Gloria Borger said when explaining the lack of quid pro quo. “He did say, ‘I’d like you to do me a favor.' I think that’s kind of an ask, don’t you?”

CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin then said, “Let’s be clear that quid pro quo is not necessary for this phone call to be widely inappropriate and potentially impeachable.”

Over on MSNBC, correspondent Julia Ainsley noted the ellipsis in the transcript.

“There’s a dot-dot-dot and I asked, ‘Is there something we’re not getting there?’ I couldn’t get an answer to that, whether or not it was just a pause in the call or something they left out," Ainsley said. "Typically, if they leave it out, they would redact it. But there is a lot of questions about what he is implying here.”

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MSNBC then brought on former Obama staffer Ned Price to declare the call was “worse” than he thought it would be.

“The whole game here is the mention of Vice President Biden and his son. It was really a binary, either he did or he didn’t,” Price said. “To see it in this call memorandum is really striking.”

Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab director Joshua Benton determined that the transcript reveals 66 words were spoken per minute, which he says is “quite slow” and suggests text was omitted. Others harped on the word “transcript” being used to describe the summary of Trump’s phone call, so much that "not a transcript" became a trending topic on Twitter.

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“This clearly IS NOT a transcript… we have to refrain from calling it a verbatim transcript,” CNN’s Brian Karem tweeted. "We've been lied to -- again."

“No Things Considered” host Tim Young pointed out that the goalposts were moved twice regarding the Trump-Ukraine call.

READ THE UKRAINE CALL MEMO

“At first we had to see the transcript of the call. Now we have seen it and it vindicates the president. Then they said we had to see the whistleblower complaint, which we will see, and it will also vindicate the president. All the Democrats and the media can do is move the goalposts,” conservative strategist Chris Barron told Fox News. “If they had any decency, they would apologize for getting this so utterly wrong. Alas, decency means nothing when you are all-in on yet another provable lie to the American people.”

DePauw University professor and media critic Jeffrey McCall told Fox News that mainstream media coverage of the Ukraine controversy has “been thoroughly saturated by partisanship and speculation” despite facts being sparse prior to the transcript being released.

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“Reporters who might want to challenge the accuracy of the transcripts should make sure there is evidence to support any challenges as they go forward,” McCall said. “Sadly, most media outlets have already decided which direction their coverage will take them, either to support the impeachment parade or throw cold water on it. And any facts one way or the other won't necessarily change the direction.”

“Sadly, most media outlets have already decided which direction their coverage will take them, either to support the impeachment parade or throw cold water on it, and any facts one way or the other won't necessarily change the direction.”

— Media critic Jeffrey McCall

The process of moving the goalposts began on Tuesday before the transcripts were even released when MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and CNN’s Jake Tapper responded to Trump announcing he would release the full transcript of the call. Hayes and Tapper pre-emptively raised doubts about the transcript's veracity

“Given what we know about how Trump pressures and manipulates civil servants to toe his line, I'm not *quite* sure we can trust the transcript itself as being accurate/comprehensive,” Hayes tweeted.

Tapper took it further, reminding CNN viewers of “two important caveats” about the transcript.

“One, this is a White House that has falsified information before, from showing a doctored hurricane map to promoting a video that an outside group altered of a CNN reporter," Tapper said. "So who knows if this transcript will actually be complete? Second, the whistleblower’s complaint about Trump is about more than just that one phone call."

CNN’s Brian Stelter even reminded viewers that former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen once said the president “speaks in code… like a mob boss” to prepare for a lack of quid pro quo in the transcript.

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“This White House lost the benefit of the doubt a long time ago,” Stelter said before the transcript was released.

People took to Twitter with their thoughts on the goalposts being altered:

Fox News’ Alex Pappas contributed to this report.